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Support staff in lockdown with virtual communities

20 May 2020: Ben Firth, co-chair of EY’s LGBT+ employee network, outlines the importance of fostering virtual communities to help provide support during a time which many are finding increasingly difficult.

As the majority of lockdown restrictions remain in place across the UK, the impact of social distancing and long-term remote working continues to manifest in different ways for different communities. 

Everyone is facing different challenges due to the current COVID-19 crisis, including those within the LGBT+ community. While it’s important to avoid making generalisations, some trans and non-binary people may have had their Hormone Replacement Therapy suspended or surgery cancelled. Others may not be comfortable in a world of video calls to use their camera while transitioning. LGBT+ people may also struggle with being quarantined with family members who aren’t aware of their sexual orientation or gender identity – and in the worst cases, this could lead to domestic abuse. 

Mental health issues can arise from any of these examples. But as we know, lesbian, gay, bi and trans people are already statistically more likely to suffer from a mental health issue during their lifetime – and the current environment can only exacerbate this.

Providing proactive support

There are steps businesses can take to ensure all their people have access to the advice and guidance they might need during this time. As a co-chair of Unity, the EY LGBT+ Network, we’ve been looking at how we can proactively support our colleagues and the wider LGBT+ community. A key part of our approach has been focused on creating a culture of social togetherness across our firm to help safeguard mental and physical wellbeing. 

We use our network newsletters to communicate virtual social events and outline how people can get involved in key events such as International Women’s Day and Lesbian Visibility Week to help maintain a strong sense of community, even as we are all physically separate. Technology has helped keep everyone connected and allows us to think more creatively about how we engage with members of the network during lockdown.

We’ve also been using the network’s communications to highlight the resources and support available both within EY and externally through specific LGBT+ charities and organisations. These include support on mental health, available to all our people in EY, and external resources such as LGBT+ mental health charity MindOut, and Galop, which runs a national LGBT+ domestic violence helpline.

As we look to the months ahead, some key LGBT+ events have, understandably, been cancelled or postponed. For example, the annual Stonewall conference and many Pride events. These are normally key platforms to help raise awareness, build networks and instil a sense of community. The Stonewall conference is important for highlighting best practice and raising awareness of LGBT+ issues to organisations so they can incorporate it into their ongoing efforts to create an inclusive work environment. 

Different organisations are considering how they can address this gap in the community. The EY Unity Network, for example, is looking at how events such as Pride can be marked this year, both within the firm and also externally, working with other organisations such as mygwork which is planning a five-day virtual conference to cover these issues and bring the LGBT+ community together.

At a time of uncertainty and physical distancing, it’s perhaps more important than ever that we support closer psychological and emotional distancing. This is true for all communities, not just those who identify as LGBT+. Key milestones in the year, such as the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia 2020 (17 May), also play an important part in proactively raising awareness and supporting LGBT+ colleagues, friends, family members, as we continue to navigate these difficult times. 

To get timely resources and our latest insights on LGBT+ issues, visit ICAEW’s Diversity Inclusion Hub.